Posts Tagged ‘Premier League’

The Six Pointer – Expensive Toys, Retro Formations & more…

07/02/2011

That was the weekend that was. Newcastle vs Arsenal deserves a post in itself!

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1. Fernando Torres certainly had a Chelsea debut to forget and it will be interesting to see how Carlo Ancelotti fits him in for the rest of the season. The switch to a diamond midfield with Torres and Drogba playing as a pair up front wasn’t a surprise but it was strange to see Nicolas Anelka given the nod in the hole behind them.

I assume the theory was that Lampard’s strength is arriving from deep, something which would be negated if he played at the head of diamond. Chelsea’s success over the past few season has come through playing 4-3-3 and you can’t fit Torres and Drogba in that system and get the best of both.

Torres of course needs time to adapt; despite his price tag you can’t just expect him to instantly understand his new team-mates way of playing. But, given how Chelsea are quickly becoming involved in a battle to maintain a top four position as well as trying to engineer another attempt at the holy grail of the Champions League, Carlo Ancelotti will have his work cut out to solve this conundrum quickly.

An inauspicious start.

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2. In contrast, Torres’ old team are on quite the run of form at the moment. After overseeing a defeat to Blackpool, Kenny Dalglish has quickly turned things around with some innovative, or should that be retro, tactical moves.

Three at the back has long been out of vogue but Liverpool have used it successfully to stifle the aerial bombardment of Stoke, and now the technical probing of Chelsea. Contrasting attacks but the same result – a convincing clean sheet. The beauty of playing 3-5-2 with wing-backs is that in theory it can work so well – they offer solidity in defence by forming a five but options in attack when pushing forward.

I don’t see Glen Johnson working well long-term on the left but it seems to be successful for the time being.  Of course Dalglish has the same problem as Ancelotti in trying to fit £50m worth of strike force into his team but you feel it will be a little easier with the players at his disposal.

Close enough. Though if this was Stoke they'd play all four.

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3. Niko Kranjcar’s winner for Spurs against Bolton should give Harry Redknapp some reminder of the talents at his disposal. Notoriously poor at rotating, Redknapp is very much one to stick to the same players until the they get injured or he just doesn’t fancy them anymore. Kranjcar has been one of the unlucky ones this season with just six appearances to his name, totalling a measly 235 minutes.

So much so that ‘Arry bought a similar player in Pienaar in the transfer window, simply because he was available rather than any great need for him. The whole point of a 25 man squad is to use it, not least when you’re competing at the top end of the table and the Champions League. Perhaps he’d find that when he does have to turn to them, they might perform better if they’ve had a few games under their belts.

Niko Kranjcar, Spurs player. Sometimes.

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4. Following Chelsea and now Man Utd losing to Wolves this season, Arsenal’s 2-0 victory at Molineux is looking better and better. It must be frustrating that Mick McCarthy can get fantastic performances against the big sides but then lose to those around him. As with last season, it will be a close run thing whether Wolves go down but there are certainly worse teams in the league this season. They have yet to play either match against West Brom and those two games look like being crucial in determining which of the two sides will be relegated. I certainly don’t think both will stay up.

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5. Bolton have now lost six straight away games. What was looking like a promising Europa League push is turning into a mid-table season. Part of the reason must be that the previously red-hot partnership of Elmander and Davies have one goal each since late November and Chung-Yong Lee, who had six assists has been away at the Asian Cup. With that in mind the loan signing of Sturridge looks to be a good move both for player and club. Already he’s taken on some of the attacking responsibility with two goals in two games.

He’ll be sure to want prove that he’s good enough to be at Chelsea next season and that motivation can only benefit Bolton. After all, this time last season Jack Wilshere was embarking on a similar loan and is now a starter for Arsenal and in the England squad. If Sturridge can get the goals to fire Bolton to 7th, Bolton may even have a shot at keeping him permanently.

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6. Ten games produced 43 goals this weekend. As ever, Blackpool played a big part in that and their 25 games this season have seen 87 goals at just three and half a game. I wouldn’t want Ian Holloway to change his approach at all, but for the sake of Blackpool having another season in the top flight, I’d love them to get a 0-0 away from home once in a while!

They'll need an updated version after this season.

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T.

Weekly Photoshop – Gray and Keys

01/02/2011

Everyone’s favourite sexists this week. Personally I was quite glad to see them go – how nice will it be to have some smug free analysis on Sky for once. Or perhaps I’m being too presumptuous and whoever replaces them will end up maintaining the previous status quo…

Silvio certainly knew who his favourite TV presenters were.

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Plenty more here.

T.

Archive.

The Trouble With… Mike Ashley

07/12/2010

The news yesterday that Newcastle, or more specifically Mike Ashley, had sacked Chris Hughton was something of a shock to say the least. After leading them back to the Premier League with a 102 point Championship winning season, Hughton has overseen comfortable start to the season with Newcastle lying 11th with 19 points from 16 games.

You're better off without him Chris...

Ashley cited the need for someone with more managerial experience to take the club forward which is reasonable if Newcastle were struggling but not in the current circumstances.

It’s not as if Newcastle are marooned in the bottom three, they’ve been mid-table all season and had impressive league victories over Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sunderland amongst others. Chuck in a League Cup win away at Chelsea and you’ve got the basis of good start to the season.

Perhaps there was the feeling that the current run of one win in six was a sign of things to come, but if that was the case then surely Chelsea would be sacking Carlo Ancelotti right now, given he has the exact same record over that period. If  Ashley looked at the table he’d see Everton and Liverpool below his side too.

The whole reason Newcastle were regarded  as a joke club for so many years was that there was always something ridiculous going on. Whether it was poorly thought out signings, directors making inappropriate comments, or hiring Joe Kinnear as manager, you always felt glad your own club wasn’t as stupid.

Hughton brought some stability and more importantly some dignity back to Newcastle. Conducting his business with little fuss, and managing to pretty much unite one of the most divisive squads in recent memory, he was doing well in his first shot at full-time management. Ashley obviously felt otherwise.

Let's shake on it. It won't make a difference but it makes me look good.

Perhaps he felt this season offers an opportunity – it’s a tighter league than normal so a higher than expected finish is achievable.

Perhaps he looks at how well fellow promoted sides West Brom and Blackpool are doing and feels Newcastle should be doing better having last season finished 11 and 32 points ahead respectively.

Perhaps he still plans to sell the club sooner rather than later and wants a bigger manager to attract higher bids and better players. The thing about most of these options is that if anything Newcastle are punching above their weight at the moment.

Ashley may feel that they should resume their place at the higher echelons of the league but times have long since changed from the heady days of title challenges. The main reason is the lack of investment in the team. I know Ashley has spent £300million since buying the club (including the cost price) and he the right to do what he wants but much of this was wasted on poor players and a big fat payoff to big fat Sam Allardyce.

This summer they spent around £6million and that’s being generous as a third of that was just to loan Ben Arfa. Considering how small the squad was to begin with, to currently be 11th despite a poor run of form isn’t to be sniffed at. A promoted side should be looking at staying up first and foremost. Who knows what changing manager now will have.

Mr & Mrs Average

In fairness, despite the difficulty in doing so, judgement has to be reserved until the next manager is named. If Newcastle end up with say Martin O’Neill (unlikely) or Martin Jol (expensive but maybe) then you could argue that a good decision may have been made, however harsh it is on Hughton.

There isn’t really a good time to change managers and it may as well have been done pre January transfer window. The backlash will come if Newcastle end up with someone like Alan Curbishley or Alan Pardew. Are they truly better than Chris Hughton? Really? It would smack of hiring the proverbial safe pair of hands or in other words complete mediocrity.

Curbishley has a track record of uninspiring mid table finishes, the exception being 7th with Charlton in 2003/04. I lost track of the number of times his team would be in a good position come January before collapsing once reaching 40 points. I suppose Alan Pardew is a slightly better option but that’s like saying Andy Townsend is a slightly better pundit than Robbie Earle – both are completely meh.

I wonder who Jol would pick as his assistant?!

By keeping out of the limelight for a while, Mike Ashley’s reputation improved in recent months but he’s destroyed any goodwill he had with Newcastle fans. Even if he brings in someone really quiet good, I’m not sure he will regain it. In the eyes of most, he’s probably the one who should be leaving the club.

T.

Arsenal 2 Fulham 1 – Na na na na na na…

05/12/2010

Post match thoughts on Arsenal v Fulham.

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Both of Samir Nasri’s goals were wonderfully taken; on each occasion his close control getting him past several players before providing a finish with either foot. I think part of Nasri’s ability to score such goals stems from his comfort shooting off either foot. It doesn’t limit his direction as he knows whichever route he’ll take, there will still be an opportunity to fire a shot on goal. Beyond Andrey Arshavin, there isn’t a player in the Arsenal squad as two footed. This versatility is a big factor in Nasri’s terrific start to the season.

He's run out of fingers to count his goals this season.

Arshavin himself also had a pretty good game, and has also had a pretty good season thus far. Yes he is a luxury and yes he often stands around but he makes things happen and is often a step ahead in terms what he’s trying to pull off. It might be prudent to play someone a bit more defensive in tough away games but at the same time he is more likely to produce something out of nothing.

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Fulham played pretty well on the whole and with a little more ambition could even have won the game. The main tactic of trying to play in Kamara behind the defence didn’t work often (mainly due to Kamara’s tendency to mistime his runs and caught offside) but it did result in Fulham’s goal. I can’t complain that the game wasn’t stopped for Koscielny’s head injury, ultimately he hadn’t fallen to the ground and so it was difficult to know the full extent in the short space of a few seconds.

It was interesting that at 1-1 and with control of the ball in midfield, Fulham would often play it all the way back to Schwarzer in goal. Similarly they would spend an age over every throw and goal kick – it was clear that Mark Hughes considered a draw a good result, but that lack of ambition has seen him become the draw specialist in the Premier League.

Ouch.

I was impressed by Johan Djourou when he came on for Koscielny. He’s been good when he’s played this season but Wenger is obviously being cautious with regards to playing him every game. He was authoritative in the air and seems to have made a conscious change in terms of attacking the ball/player. Clichy and Sagna were also solid, the former having his best game in quite some time. Perhaps the fit again Kieran Gibbs has focussed the Frenchman’s mind somewhat.

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The game was closer than it perhaps should have been but in part this was due to the poor performances of Arsenal’s midfield. Wilshere looked quite tired after playing against Wigan and faded as the game went on. Rosicky was fairly anonymous but neither were as bad as Alex Song who seems to have forgotten what his role is.

There were plenty of misplaced passes from him and his tendency to wander forward unnecessarily remains unabated. This often left the defence exposed both in terms of Fulham attacks but also as an option for them to pass to. He needs a few games where he curbs his attacking instincts, especially if you consider the upcoming games against Man Utd and Chelsea.

Just 72% completed.

The tension made for a better atmosphere in a way. For once Arsenal had got going early in the first half and produced a number of chances (and indeed the goal) which got the crowd going. But as Fulham came back into it, mistakes were made and calls were not received from ref Chris Foy, meaning there was considerable crowd noise generated. The crowd often feeds off the team but I think it works both ways.

I should mention Theo Walcott briefly too. He was only on for 15 minutes but it was one of those horrible games were nothing he did came off. The worst thing was that his job was to play off the last centre back/left back but he seemed unwilling to do that, and simply jogged around not wanting the receive the ball or to make any runs. With Van Persie returning and Nasri and Arshavin in such good form, it’s tricky to see where his starts will come from at the moment.

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T.

Weekly Photoshop – Carroll & Nolan

09/11/2010

Andy Carroll is a naughty boy who often ends up doing naughty things. However instead of being sent to his room to think about what he’s done,  he’s instead been sent to live with Newcastle club captain Kevin Nolan. I bet Mrs Nolan is thrilled…

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I'm sure this year's Nolan family Christmas card won't be at all awkward...

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More here.

T.

Archive.

Arsenal v Birmingham Thoughts

17/10/2010

For the second year running the weekend of my birthday featured a home match against Birmingham. As I made my way to the Emirates in an ever so slightly tender state, I hoped for a repeat of 2009/10’s result, a 3-1 victory with goals from van Persie, Diaby and Arshavin.

My fear however was that without Fabregas and post international break, Arsenal would struggle to break down a Birmingham side who would play 451 and come for a draw.

The first 30 minutes were very flat – the atmosphere was subdued with Birmingham fans making all of the noise. The ironic cheers when the Arsenal fans roused themselves to sing a chant said it all. Even the so-called singing section wasn’t up to much.

It didn’t help the action on the pitch was a bit lacklustre too. Plenty of possession for the home team but the forward line felt a little one paced while Diaby was his usual dallying self as the most forward of the midfield trio.

It took ‘two’ goals to liven things up; one disallowed for Arsenal and one against the run of play for Birmingham. From where we were sitting it was unclear why Squillaci’s header had been disallowed. Indeed it took me a good 30 seconds to realise, my brain not fully up to speed from the night before.

Twitter would tell me it was for offside but the decision was somewhat tight. Not long after a Birmingham player wasn’t closed down and hit a deep cross to the back post. There, 6’8″ Zigic lost Clichy and planted a bullet header back across goal. Fabianski needed a second to set himself and dive but it’s hard to blame him – it was a great header.

I was concerned at this stage given the lack of cutting edge thus far and the fact Birmingham are pretty solid defensively. The taunts from the away section were cutting. Something along the lines of “how shit must you be if we’re winning away” – indeed.

Thankfully things were soon evened up. Chamakh was played in and fouled by Scott Dann, at least it looked that way from where I was sitting at the opposite end of the stadium.

Replays I’d see later would suggest he was on his way down before contact was made but to be honest it looked worse in slow motion and we were the victims last season when Rooney did the same thing. Anyway, Nasri sent Foster the wrong way to make it 1-1 at HT.

The second half saw an immediate improvement. Chamakh, who was having an excellent game with plenty of intelligent runs and hold up play, was played in by Song and he rounded the keeper to slot home his fifth goal of the season.

Despite the lead there was still lack of chances being created from the improved running. This was mainly due to Diaby’s continual failure to release the ball early.

He didn’t have a bad game per se but you see the difference when someone like Cesc is playing in that position – he knows when to drive and run with the ball and when to play an early through ball instead. Time and time again Diaby would reach the box and not know what to do and the attack would break down.

Frustrating, but he was not entirely blameless – Arshavin had a very quiet game and offered little running off the ball and little creativity on it.

Bendtner came on and looked busy in his cameo – he will be a useful option in the coming weeks and months. Rosicky meanwhile had one or two decent efforts having replaced Arshavin. You just feel he needs a goal for his confidence, though it must be said his shooting is much more on target than at the start of the season.

The game started to fizzle out somewhat though there remained a slight tetchiness throughout with plenty of running arguments and niggly fouls. This culminated in Wilshere receiving a straight red card for a late foul on Zigic.

It was entirely unnecessary as it was by the halfway line near the touchline but let’s be honest it wasn’t that unexpected. He’s been flying into tackles all season long and it was only a matter of time before one was mis-timed and he was punished for it.

Though I didn’t see it, 7amkickoff informs me Wilshere had been on the receiving end from Zigic not long before so this was essentially retaliation. Wilshere still has that slight hot headedness about him and the sending off will no doubt teach him a few things. That aside he was one of the best players on the pitch yet again, constantly probing and keeping things ticking over.

All in all it was a decent victory, one of those where it was important you got three points despite missing a raft of first team players. I would have liked more goals on my birthday but I’ll take a win and the knowledge that Chelsea and Man Utd both dropped points.

 

T.

Weekly Photoshop – Stuart Attwell

05/10/2010

SUCCESS! Everyone’s favourite referee is this week’s theme. Stuart Attwell has been involved in more controversies than Nigel De Jong has made dirty tackles.

The most recent was getting a free kick being taken confused with a player passing back to a keeper allowing him to take it in the Sunderland Liverpool game a week or so ago.

Having seen him first hand make loads of poor decisions when watching Arsenal v Bolton earlier this season, I definitely think the guy is well out of his depth. Anyway, the entry below won 2nd place this week. Huzzah, it’s been a while!

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Though originally classified as a comedy, Attwell is now considered by some critics to be one of Shakespeare's problem referees...

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More here.

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T.

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Archive.

Weekly Photoshop – Andy Carroll

07/09/2010

Newcastle’s new number 9 is the theme this week. One hat-trick against Aston Villa and already he’s the saviour…

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andy carroll

Allegedly a bit of a naughty boy.

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More here.

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T.

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Archive.

Weekly Photoshop – Blackpool in the Premier League

24/08/2010

Blackpool are this week’s theme and already they’re proving to be a lot of fun during their brief stay in the Premier League, winning 4-0 and losing 6-0. Hard not to focus on Ian Holloway as no one else has established themselves yet. This makes no sense unless you’ve seen this interview. I look forward to further inspired post match analysis this season.

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Blackpool Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway finds the standard of lady he gets in the taxi to be of a much higher standard now Blackpool are in the top flight.

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More here.

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T.

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Archive.

The Six Pointer: Theo Time, Tennis Scores & more…

23/08/2010

That was the weekend that was.

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1. Theo Walcott had arguably his best ever game for Arsenal scoring a hat-trick as the Gunners demolished Blackpool 6-0. Showing pace, direct running, and good end product, Walcott ran the show against the beleaguered Seasiders.

Yes it was “only” Blackpool and he was afforded more time and space than normal (not least once Blackpool were down to ten men) but it was encouraging to watch him put in such a performance.

Walcott has had his critics in his brief career, and rightly so in many cases but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he’s only 21 years old and has yet to get a through a season without major injury disruptions.

Taking his league stats from the last three seasons into account, it shows every season broken up through injury and bit part appearances.

2007/08 – 25 appearances/1260 minutes

2008/09 – 22 appearances/1265 minutes

2009/10 – 23 appearances/1129 minutes

1260 minutes equates to 14 full games which is just over a third of the season. Therefore in the space of three league seasons, he’s had one season’s worth of playing time. Yet people wonder why he’s not yet the finished article.

Of course cup and European games can be added to those totals but the point remains that Walcott is still very early into his development. Walcott himself acknowledges this is a key season for him, but let’s judge him at the end of it not the beginning.

Yeah!

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2. Another week, another 6-0 win for Chelsea – this Premier League lark is pretty easy isn’t it?! Drogba was once again a key player with three assists while Malouda and Anelka helped themselves to yet more goals.

Tougher tests will follow than West Brom and Wigan but a significant goal difference advantage amounts to the equivalent of an extra point at the business end of the season. Given they won the title by just a point last season, these early victories may prove vital.

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3. Two bogey teams continued their hold in London this weekend; Bolton winning their third successive game at Upton Park while Fulham prevented Man Utd from 3 points at Craven Cottage for the third successive season. Both games came down to missed penalties taken by someone other than the regular taker.

Carlton Cole saw his kick saved by Jaaskelainen which meant West Ham didn’t go into half time with lead. Bolton came out in the second half and scored twice and went on to win meaning Mark Noble’s penalty made no difference.

Meanwhile at 2-1 up against Fulham, Man Utd’s Nani took a spot kick instead of regular man Ryan Giggs. Stockdale saved, Fulham equalised and Fergie bemoaned silly dropped points.

It got me wondering as to why Noble hadn’t taken West Ham’s first and Giggs hadn’t taken United’s. Every club ranks their penalty takers for a reason. If the top man is on the field, he should take it.

The only exception to this is if someone is on a hat-trick and the game is won. I’m sure both Avram Grant and Alex Ferguson will be telling their players as much before the next game.

He's no Ronaldo...

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4. As much as I want to ignore Bale’s second goal vs Stoke, I can’t deny it was an excellent volley. I’m pretty sure we’ll see better this season but it’s likely to end up as goal of the month if nothing else. Bale is fast becoming Tottenham’s most important player and will be key to ensuring they challenge for a top four spot again.

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5. I don’t think anyone expected the third 6-0 of the weekend at St. James’ Park. Newcastle were terrific against a woeful Aston Villa and Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan reminded many that they are more than capable of performing at the highest level.

Andy Carroll scored a nice hat-trick and already people are tipping him for an England call. It is perhaps a little early for that but he has great potential. He won most things in the air against Vidic last week and was once again dominant aerially against the Aston Villa defence. His link up play suggests decent technique and it will be worth watching him this season, especially in home games.

Newcastle are now unbeaten in something like 23 games at home and they could do well to follow the template of two other recently promoted clubs, Stoke and Birmingham, in making their home ground a fortress in order to get the points needed to stay up.

Aerial beast.

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6. Last season Wigan were very Jekyll and Hyde beating Arsenal or Liverpool one week before getting smacked by seven the next. It looks like this season will mainly consist of the latter. I don’t think Martinez will have too long to sort it out but with games against Spurs and Man City coming up, they may be quite far adrift quite quickly.

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T.


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